Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Danger Will Robinson...The Robots Are Coming!

Here at Personal Beasties we have been reading, with interest, all the fascinating Elon Musk quotes in the media, regarding his $10M pledge to the Future of Life Institute for research to "keep AI beneficial" and protect humanity from the potential evils of rouge Artificial Intelligence systems.
"With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn't work out."
Our immediate reaction to this quote was, how very Personal Beasties!

Throughout the ages we have delighted in sharing stories of humanities attempts to tame inner demons or beasties by illustrating exciting struggles between heroes and fantastical outer demons/beasties;

"When the demigods slew monsters, they were also slaying the bestial part of themselves and of humanity…Humanity had been given animal consciousness, but that gift carried with it a danger for every human being -- the danger of turning bestial and monstrous."
Mark Booth The Sacred History
Personal Beasties, of course, is all about leveraging technology to help tame the beasties within and we recently learned about a fabulous organization, here in NYC, at New York University Langone's Child Study Center.

The Child Study Center has a program called Trauma Systems Therapy (TST) in which children learn to identify, experience and safely express emotions, sometime using breathing techniques when necessary. Foster care workers as well as foster parents are also trained in TST, "to help make them more empathetic and tolerant of a child’s behavior."

At Personal Beasties, we applaud the work of the team at NYU Langone's Child Study Center and we hope that Elon Musk and his luminous contemporaries will soon understand that donations to organizations such as this may be the ideal way for us to defend humanity from the dangers of rampant AI systems.

As Stephen Hawkins's says, these systems have the potential to "spell the end of the human race." This is particularly relevant as consumers are on the verge of being seduced into mass AI culture with the entrance of sociable robots into the marketplace, particularly caregiving robots, given that this was the year that robots went personal at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES): "They listen, they speak, they react, they do what they’re told—they’re a help to us on a personal level…and way more."

Why is this potentially so dangerous?

Well, as Sherry Turkle explains in her letter to the New York Times; "Robots proposed as 'caring machines' fool us into thinking they care about us. Maintaining eye contact, remembering our names, responding to verbal cues — these are things that robots do to simulate care and understanding."
And as Turkle explained in a 2011 PBS Nova piece on the subject; "We are outsourcing the thing we do best --understanding each other, taking care of each other…The danger is in the conditioning of humans to think that someone is there, when in fact there is nobody home…robots will disappoint us if we are looking for human connection."

NYU's Langone's Child Study Center and their TST program is the opposite of this doomsday scenario, rather than outsourcing caregiving, they are training caregivers and children in how to strengthen their inner human resources.

We at Personal Beasties are committed to this evolutionary approach, of taming our inner beasties with compassion…not in weakening our ability to care for others (and ourselves) through outsourcing our innate caregiving capabilities to robots.

"Every technology provides an opportunity to ask, “Does it serve our human purposes?” — a question that causes us to reconsider what these purposes are." Sherry Turkle

We feel that NYU's Langone Child Study Center should be used as the Gold Standard for a "Turkle Test" to assess all future technology driven, caregiver applications and mechanisms coming down the pike, which try to seduce us with promises of improved efficacy and the nirvana of saving precious time.